Aug. 17, 2011 <br/>LONDON — -- Two young British men have been jailed for four years each after admitting they used Facebook to urge people to riot in their local neighborhoods.
The stiff sentences have attracted fierce debate across England, with some accusing authorities of handing out harsh punishment for relatively trivial offenses in response to the public's desire for retribution.
The sentences are the longest yet handed down in the aftermath of widespread rioting in English cities that began August 6 and resulted in the death of five people and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage. Over 1700 people have been arrested so far and over 1000 have been charged.
Prime Minister David Cameron defended the English courts Wednesday, saying, "It's up to the courts to make decisions about sentencing, but they've decided to send a tough message and it's very good that the courts feel able to do that."
Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan from the county of Cheshire in northern England both posted messages on their Facebook pages on August 8 and 9 urging friends to riot in certain places at certain times. Blackshaw told friends to "Smash Down Northwich Town," while Sutcliffe-Keenan created a page called "Let's Have a Riot in Latchford."
Police admit that no riots resulted from their postings and that neither of the guilty men was involved in acts of violence or theft themselves.
In passing sentence, Judge Elgan Edwards said both men acted separately and had behaved in an "evil manner inciting violence at a time when collective insanity gripped the nation."
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, criticized the sentence, complaining the sentences were far too severe.
"A four-year sentence would normally be associated with offenses such as holding someone up at knifepoint, grievous bodily harm, sexual assault," said Neilson, "and I'm not sure that the offence in question was really related to those types of offenses."
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